Posted on: September 20, 2010 2:09 pm
The Spurs were my preseason pick to face the Celtics in the NBA Finals a year ago. It was my way of avoiding the cliched Lakers-Celtics prediction, but it also was founded in a belief that experience and a championship-tested core would mean something come June. I was only half right, and I don't think I'll be picking the Spurs or the Celtics to be the last two teams standing this time around. But I'm not willing to pronounce the end of San Antonio's dynasty, either. Thus, a somewhat optimistic Preseason Primer on Timmy, Tony, Manu and the gang:
San Antonio Spurs
Training camp site: San Antonio, TX
Training camp starts: Sept. 28
Key additions: Tiago Splitter (signed), James Anderson (draft).
Key subtractions: Roger Mason Jr. (free agent), Keith Bogans (free agent), Ian Mahinmi (free agent).
Likely starting lineup: Tony Parker, PG; George Hill, SG; Richard Jefferson, SF; Tim Duncan, PF; Antonio McDyess, C.
Player to watch: Duncan. At 34, Timmy most certainly is on his last legs. But accelerate reports of his demise at your own peril. Gregg Popovich says Duncan will report to camp even slimmer than he was a year ago, when he showed up having shed 15 pounds. The long-anticipated agreement with Splitter, the Brazilian big man drafted in 2007, will give Pop even more reason to be judicious with Duncan’s minutes during the regular season. The best power forward of his generation may also be the most boring, but enjoy his artistry while it lasts.
Chemistry quiz: If you ask Popovich a question about chemistry, he’s liable to launch into a rant about molecules and peptides and the like. That’s Pop. But the normally cohesive Spurs actually do have a bit of a concern heading into camp. Parker, the youngest of San Antonio’s Big Three at 28, appears to be getting anxious about his future in San Antonio and the viability of the Spurs’ aging core. Approached at his front-row seat after a Team USA exhibition at Madison Square Garden this summer, Parker brushed off questions about his situation and the coming season. “I’m on vacation,” he said. With the continued emergence of Hill, Parker’s demeanor and the Spurs’ commitment to him bears watching. Know this about R.C. Buford and his new (and old) front-office sidekick, Danny Ferry: If the wheels are coming off at the trade deadline, they won’t allow the window to close without positioning themselves for the future.
Injury watch: Anderson was limited this summer with a hamstring injury, but returned to the practice court last week. Parker is worth keeping an eye on after missing significant time last season with a broken right (shooting) hand, and Ginobili’s historically balky ankles are always a topic of conversation and potential dread among Spurs fans. (Shhh. I won’t even mention Duncan’s back.)
Camp battles: Despite their reputation for being the old-folks home of the NBA, the Spurs actually have some youth to integrate into the rotation. Some potentially very good youth. Aside from the obvious leaders of this movement, Hill and DeJuan Blair, Popovich s eager to take a look at some of the youngsters who excelled on the Spurs’ Summer League team, which went 5-0 in Las Vegas despite the notable lack of a lottery pick. Sharpshooter Gary Neal, 25, averaged 16 points on 50 percent shooting in Vegas (including 17-for-34 from beyond the arc) and earned himself a three-year contract. Alonzo Gee, 23, and Curtis Jerrells, 23, a D-League callup last season, first-round pick Anderson, 21, and Garrett Temple, 24, also will get long looks in camp. Really, anyone under the age of 30 has a standing invitation to Spurs training camp just to pad the average-age statistic.
Biggest strength: They still have Duncan. And Parker. And Ginobili. And Popovich, who is as good as it gets from a strategic and leadership standpoint on the NBA sidelines. Splitter will not only help rest Duncan, but he’ll also help the Spurs in a notable category around the basket where they lagged last season: San Antonio was 11th in the league in having its shots blocked (5.09 per game).
Glaring weakness: Despite the influx of youth, the Spurs’ two most important players – Duncan, 34, and Ginobili, 33, – also are their oldest. But if the Celtics could get to the Finals last season with Kevin Garnett limping around like an octogenarian, well, maybe there’s hope that San Antonio’s window is still open. Just a sliver.
Posted on: May 24, 2010 5:27 pm
PHOENIX – Having completed his media obligations outside the Suns’ practice court Monday, Steve Nash took a couple of steps and the horde of reporters and cameramen parted like the Red Sea. When this guy goes into a crowd, blood can never be far behind.
Sporting a fractured nose that he noted is “nicely curved,” Nash was on his way to have what the team described as a “minor procedure” to put it back into place. Easy for them to say. Nash is accustomed to all kinds of procedures, and has even been known to perform impromptu surgery on himself – as he did Sunday night after a collision with the Lakers’ Derek Fisher knocked his nose out of kilter.
Thankfully for all involved, there was no blood this time.
“I think he just needs to put on, not just the mask that Rip Hamilton wears, but like a whole helmet or something like that over his whole face,” teammate Jason Richardson said after practice. “You watch the play over and over again and you’re like, ‘What happened?’ And then you see that his nose is on one side of his face. And he’s there adjusting his own nose, and I’m like, ‘Ah, man, come on.’ But that’s Steve Nash, man. He’s used to stuff like that. He gets hit in the face all the time.”
Death, taxes, and a bloody and/or battered Nash in the playoffs. These are the things we can count on every spring.
There was the infamous bloody beak that caused him to miss the final crucial seconds of a loss to the Spurs in Game 1 of their 2007 playoff series … the hip check into the scorer’s table from Robert Horry that got Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw suspended for leaving the bench later in the same series … Tim Duncan’s elbow turning his eye into a swollen, bloody mess in Phoenix’s second-round sweep of the Spurs this year … and now this.
“I’m lucky,” Nash said. “I’ve had a couple bumps or bruises that haven’t affected my play. Those don’t bother you. It’s the ones that limit you that you hope you don't have to face.”
Luck? What kind?
“I think it’s just bad luck,” Richardson said. “Bad luck and bad timing.”
Nash, who quietly helped the Suns climb back into the Western Conference finals with a 118-109 victory Sunday night that cut the Lakers’ advantage to 2-1 in the best-of-7 series, will not wear any sort of protective gear in Game 4 Tuesday night in Phoenix. The Spurs’ Manu Ginobili tried a plastic mask after breaking his nose this postseason, then switched to good old-fashioned tape. He was never the same after the injury.
“This guy’s gone through a lot of stuff the last two or three years in the playoffs,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said of Nash. “I don't think it’s going to bother him. “On second thought, Ginobili, it really curtailed his game. I thought his game really tailed off after the broken nose, so it’s probably an individual thing.”
Nash presumably has been hit in the head enough to understand how to work around it. As a Canadian, he perfectly embodies the kind of toughness that his homeland’s national sport requires.
“That’s what the hockey guys do, man,” Richardson said. “Get your teeth knocked out, get your nose broke, get five or six stitches on your eyeball and you still play. He’s a tough guy and he’s going to play through stuff like that. I know in the back of his mind he’s like, ‘Why are people getting in my face?’ But he’s fine.”
Through the first three games of the conference finals, Nash has been even more of a facilitator than usual. He’s attempted only 28 field goals in 102 minutes on the floor, shooting 50 percent – but only 1-for-6 from 3-point range after making 124 treys in the regular season.
“Sure, I’d love to get 15 or 20 shots up, but my job in this offense is to read the defense,” Nash said. “That’s really our offense – pick and roll and I read the defense and try to make the defense pay for how they decide to play us. At different times in this series, a lot of people have benefited. I have a lot of faith in my teammates, and that’s the way we play.
“We don’t really play a game where we say, ‘Steve’s not getting enough shots, let’s go to offense B,’” Nash said. “That’s just not the way we play.”
Clearly, Nash only knows one way to play: hard-nosed. Even if that nose doesn’t always stay in the same place.
Posted on: April 8, 2010 10:59 pm
One of the biggest potential free agents of 2010 is officially off the market. Manu Ginobili signed a new three-year deal with the Spurs Thursday, sources confirmed to CBSSports.com.
Ginobili, 32, will make $11.8 million in 2010-11, $12.9 million in '11-12 and $14.1 million in the final year of the deal, bringing the total to more than $38,8 million, sources said.
Ginobili has been a major reason for the Spurs' resurgence since the All-Star break, and now coach Greg Popovich doesn't have to worry about the Argentine star seeking greener pastures as a free agent July 1.
Posted on: December 27, 2009 10:02 pm
NEW YORK – Gregg Popovich was a lot more cheery after the game Sunday than he was before, when he openly lamented having arrived at the team hotel in Manhattan at nearly 4 a.m. – 14 hours before the Spurs were scheduled to play the Knicks.
“I think any team that can get in the night before a back-to-back and go to bed at 4 or 4:30 in the morning and play at 6 the next day, I think that’s a good thing,” Popovich said, tongue planted firmly in cheek. “I think it puts a good product out on the floor. … It must be something that I don’t understand, because trips like this don’t make sense.”
After the Spurs’ overnight misadventures between Milwaukee and New York – ice, delays, the whole deal – Popovich actually was in a position to feel optimistic about his team for once. After beating the Bucks 112-97 Saturday night, the Spurs finished off the Knicks with an 11-4 run in a 95-88 victory. Popovich called this San Antonio’s most complete effort of the season in consecutive games.
The closing run against the Knicks was fueled by the Big Three: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. But this season has been about, and will continue to be about, the supporting cast that has changed around them. That’s why Popovich isn’t ready to declare the crisis over.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” he said.
The Spurs, architects of four championships on a shoestring budget, finally took the plunge over the luxury tax last offseason. Realizing that their window was closing while the big-spending Lakers were digging in for another dynasty, San Antonio traded for Richard Jefferson and made this season about paying the price to win.
“The landscape has changed,” Popovich said. “We did it as long as we could, and we were great at it – trying to stay under the cap and still compete for championships. A lot of people deserve a lot of credit on the financial and management side. It got to the point where teams got so good and had so many good players. To stay in the hunt, there was a simple question: Do you want to compete for a championship? If you want to, you’ve got to spend the money. And so we did it this year.”
The result has been an inconsistent team trying to find its way, which is news to the Spurs, who have been a model of stability for much of the past decade. With three new starters and with longtime defensive stopper Bruce Bowen retired, the Spurs aren’t necessarily a better team than they were in the pre-luxury tax era. Just different.
How different? Duncan offered this painfully honest assessment.
“We’ve got to figure out the scheme that works for this team,” he said. “It might not be what’s worked for this team in the past.”
A third of the way into the season, the Spurs are 11th in points allowed per game (96.9), 13th in opponent field-goal percentage (.453), and 13th in points allowed per 100 possessions (102.8). Those are ghastly numbers for a San Antonio team that has built a winning culture around defense.
The offense will come. Duncan, who had only 13 points and seven rebounds Sunday night, is on regular-season cruise control with his minutes being monitored as closely as ever. Ginobili, who had six of the Spurs’ final 11 points, played more freely in the past two games than Popovich had seen him all season. Parker, trying to figure out how to integrate Jefferson into the offense while keeping the focus on Duncan, will do whatever it takes to make it work.
The Spurs have won eight of 10, so it’s hard to nitpick. But they’ve been so good for so long, the standards for those watching them are as high as their own. The most encouraging statistic during this 10-game stretch is that San Antonio has allowed 100 points only twice. The most sobering stat: They lost to the only two teams with winning records that they played (Phoenix and Portland.)
“Look at all the other top teams in the league,” Jefferson said. “You look at Boston, they’re trying to integrate Rasheed Wallace. Look at Denver, they pretty much have their core, everybody back. The Lakers are trying to bring in Ron Artest, but they have everyone there. This is one of the few teams, us and Cleveland, that are good teams, but have a lot of new faces that they’re trying to get into the group.”
Popovich was asked before and after the game how long it should take for the Spurs to become the Spurs again – or become whatever it is they’re going to be. Of course, he said, “I have no idea. I don’t even try to figure that out. When it happens, it happens.”
And if it doesn’t, it could be a long time before the Spurs play the luxury tax game again.
Posted on: April 6, 2009 8:43 pm
Edited on: April 6, 2009 9:04 pm
No Manu? How do you say, "The Spurs are toast," in Spanish?
This analysis was both accurate and pointless; without Manu Ginobili, the Spurs are going nowhere in the playoffs., Manu said it himself about a week ago when I caught up with him after his first game back after missing more than a month with the right ankle injury that sidelined him Monday for the rest of the season and the playoffs.
"We always have a good shot," Ginobili said that night in Atlanta. "The thing is, if we’re not healthy, we won’t."
File this one under "won't." And as old and slow as the Spurs looked Sunday in Cleveland, it's time to start wondering whether the window has closed not only on this season, but also on their semi-dynasty (is four titles in 11 years a dynasty?)
Posted on: March 25, 2009 10:19 pm
Parker was brilliant Wednesday night with 42 points and 10 assists, helping the Spurs solve their recent struggles closing out games in a 102-92 victory over the Hawks. Parker's performance was so good, it prompted Duncan to say he deserves to at least be in the top five on voters' MVP ballots in a few weeks.
"I think absolutely," said Duncan, a two-time MVP. "Of course I'm biased, obviously. But with the position that we're in -- second or seventh in the West, however many games it can switch -- we're right in the mix with that. The amount of injuries we've been dealing with all year ... he's keeping this team consistent. He's been the consistent one all year long. Absolutely, he should be at least given an opportunity to be one of those top five."
It was the second-highest scoring game of Parker's career, after the 55 points against Minnesota in double overtime back in November. (For the record, he had 42 in regulation in that game.)
When Parker had 55 points and 10 assists in a 129-125 victory over the Timberwolves on Nov. 5, he stopped San Antonio from suffering its first 0-4 start since 1973. I'm detecting a theme. When the Spurs are in trouble, Parker comes to the rescue.
"He was unstoppable," said Ginobili, who had only two points on 1-for-7 shooting in 14:02, his first appearance after missing 19 games with a stress reaction in his right ankle. "But at the same time, he was really good playing defense. And there was a stretch where he found Roger (Mason), (Michael Finley), Matt (Bonner) on the roll, and they didn’t know what to do. He was the reason that we won this game."
Parker is the reason the Spurs win a lot of games. But they know they're not going anywhere if they don't get Ginobili and Duncan 100 percent -- or close to it -- before the playoffs begin.
"We always have a good shot," Ginobili said. "The thing is, if we're not healthy, we won't."
Posted on: March 25, 2009 6:26 pm
ATLANTA -- Manu Ginobili will return to the Spurs' lineup Wednesday night against the Hawks after missing 18 games with a stress reaction in his right ankle. Tim Duncan, forced into extended minutes Tuesday night to secure a 1-point victory over Golden State, will get the second night of a back-to-back off to rest his ailing right knee.
The Spurs were 11-7 without Ginobili, whose minutes will be watched closely Wednesday night. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said there's "no sense of relief whatsoever" that Ginobili is back because he doesn't know how the ankle will respond to increased minutes.
"We have no idea if he's well and perfect," Popovich said.
Popovich had planned to limit Duncan's minutes to the teens Tuesday night, but was forced to extend him when the Spurs struggled in another close game. After speaking with the media, Popovich went to the trainer's room to speak with Duncan and emerged to report that he'll sit against the Hawks.
Popovich has rested his star players on and off since just before the All-Star break, but Ginobili's injury has been a legitimate and growing concern. Now, the Spurs have to focus on getting Duncan as healthy as possible for a playoff push.
Duncan has only three 20-point games since the All-Star break, missed three straight games at the end of February, and is unlikely to play both ends of back-to-backs the rest of the way as Popovich stresses health over playoff seeding down the stretch. The Spurs have two more sets of back-to-backs left -- April 7-8 and 12-13 -- as they hope to hang onto no worse than the third seed in the West so they can avoid having to play the Lakers until the conference finals.